Letters: Listen to sex workers

Don't morally judge sex workers – listen to what they're saying
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The Independent Online

The Poppy Project's recent survey of the off-street sex industry in London shows that the industry is populated by adult women (average age 21, with no firm evidence of under-18s working) who are obeying current laws, are in control of their work (no concrete evidence of trafficking was found), in some cases are being very well paid for what they do and are taking sensible steps to protect themselves (98 per cent of establishments insist that clients wear condoms). The research also shows that low-key sex-work establishments cause no problems to their neighbours, stating that many premises are in residential areas and of "discreet" appearance.

Despite this evidence, the Poppy Project, some government ministers and other campaigning groups continue to claim that the sex industry is saturated with underage girls and trafficked "sex slaves". They also claim this situation will be improved by driving the industry further underground and by criminalising our clients. Earlier research by Poppy found that only 5 per cent of clients would be dissuaded from buying sex if doing so were criminalised.

As part of the Government's review, Vernon Coaker met with a group of 21 sex workers, who between them had over 250 years' experience of selling sex. All described how the law endangers them and had broadly positive experience of clients. It is time campaigning organisations and the Government itself prioritised sex workers' safety over ideology and moral judgement, and listened to the voice of people from the industry.

Catherine Stephens

International Union of Sex Workers,London E8

No windfall tax on energy companies

A windfall tax on UK energy companies is a thoroughly bad idea. It would deter the massive investment which is urgently needed in this country's energy industries, destroy thousands of jobs, increase our dependence on imported energy, and increase the cost of fuel in the longer term.

If it were to happen it would be the fifth tax hit suffered by the oil and gas sector since 2002, and would fly in the face of a categorical government assurance that, in recognition of the industry's need for fiscal stability, there would be no further tax increases on UK production during the lifetime of the current Parliament.

Unlike other UK companies, which pay 28 per cent corporation tax, UK oil and gas producers pay at least 50 per cent, rising to 75 per cent of their profits for older fields. The single biggest winner in the UK from the recent hike in world oil and gas prices is the Government, which will take £16bn in tax this year.

The UK has considerable reserves of oil and gas and has used them to develop a tremendous manufacturing and supply industry, providing well-paid employment for almost half a million people. It is estimated that there are up to 25bn barrels of UK oil and gas still to recover. However, these reserves are not easy to find and they are more costly to produce than in many other countries. It will take hundreds of billions of pounds to recover them, and we will have to compete globally to attract the necessary capital investment.

Do our politicians really want to damage this British success story, destroy good jobs, harm security of energy supply and increase our reliance on imported energy? A windfall tax is a sure-fire recipe for just that.

Malcolm Webb

Chief Executive, Oil & Gas UK,London SW1

On the radio this morning I heard an economist on the question of a windfall tax on the energy companies' profits. Apparently such a tax would be undesirable as a retrospective imposition would make rational investment decisions impossible for investors and for the companies who have to make major decisions on new power stations. This uncertainty would be bad for the economy.

Last week, I received a letter from my energy company, vaguely dated "August", informing me that it was having to increase its prices "from 25 July 2008". Throughout August, therefore, the electricity I have been using has cost me more than I knew.

I can see that retrospective charges might be bad for the energy companies and that a sound fiscal and regulatory framework will aid investment. But how, in an allegedly free market, can their customers make rational purchasing decisions if the prices on which these are based prove to be subject to retrospective change? I look forward to hearing the economists explain why, unlike their shareholders, the customers of energy companies should be required to live with the uncertainty of retrospective increases in charges.

David Griffiths

Macclesfield, Cheshire

Whatever happened to competition reducing prices and improving services? Power companies make money for their shareholders. Nationalised companies don't have this additional financial burden. The MPs who voted in privatisation in the first place are the ones to take responsibility.

Richard Bryant-Jefferies

East Ewell, Surrey

Your headline claiming that "Solar panels take 100 years to pay back installation costs"' (3 September) pours a familiar bucket of cold water over those of us who have generated some enthusiasm for addressing our daily environmental impacts.

Sure, you need to be smart about green home improvements. Don't install a solar panel until you have insulated your loft. But ideally do both – the world does not have time for hand-wringing over payback calculations.

I live in a three-storey house with a very well-insulated, air-tight fabric and a solar photovoltaic roof. My demand for energy is very low, so I can supply all I need from the panels above me. As I have no energy bills of any sort, I am saving perhaps £1,500 per year in energy costs. As the total cost of the roof was £30,000 (half of which was grant-funded), I am at a loss to see where the 100-year payback figure you cite comes from.

Most solar photovoltaic installations are much smaller than my all-powering 30 square metres. But whatever size you install, rest assured that your grandchildren will not be paying back the capital investment decades hence.

And anyway, is it really so critical that you should get the technology for nothing? To what other domestic purchase do we apply this harsh economic test? Your grandchildren are unlikely to quiz you about the payback time of your solar roof, but they may thank you for making a genuine effort to protect their future.

Will Anderson

London SW2

If global warming is a global issue, we shouldn't get too parochial about the solutions. If the developed world paid for some of the sunny countries (Australia, North Africa, Mexico) to have huge solar and wind projects to make them self-sufficient in renewable power, we (the developed world) would benefit. My career in project management has prepared me to always look for quick wins; the world economy could benefit from investment in easy places first.

Mike Watson


Uneven playing field for future sports stars

Your leading article "Play to our strengths" (30 August) has much to commend it, but raises a number of issues. Five hours of sport a week cannot happen unless the school day is lengthened for all pupils. Sport and PE need to be taught from a young age by specialists. There needs to be a clear distinction between "sport for all", which aims to make people fit, healthy and active, and the identification of potential sports stars, who need a very different programme.

In my school, our PE co-ordinator does a Herculean job arranging as many sports opportunities as she can after school, but she faces innumerable obstacles, which range from lack of support from parents and pupils and difficulty in finding high-quality coaches to a lack of advisory and inspectorate staff at local-authority level.

To give an example: one inspirational athletics coach gave Year 5 a six-week "taster" of athletics in school time. It was a huge success, but then he had to move on to other schools, and the children, who included two very promising athletes, were left to make arrangements to pursue this interest elsewhere. The difficulties were significant and, unsurprisingly, proved too much.

I am confident that in 2012 the bulk of the medal-winners will again be from the private sector where money isn't an issue, and specialist coaching and facilities are seen as essential.

Jane Lawson

London SE7

Sarah Palin gives us reason to be fearful

Mary Dejevsky (Opinion, 5 September) appears to consider that matters of policy merit only a passing reference in her assessment of Sarah Palin as a source of succour for disaffected supporters of Hillary Clinton.

It is a great thing that female candidates for high office no longer face the discrimination that would once have slammed the door in their faces, but madness to entertain the idea that one should therefore vote for them purely because of their sex. Those switching from Democrat to Republican purely on this basis betray their political vacuity and their bitter determination that the candidate who beat their favourite must in turn be brought down, whatever the cost.

Palin's bellicose religiosity indicates an immunity to reason deeply worrying in one seeking the Vice-presidency of the planet's major power. Dejevsky confesses only to "misgivings" about Palin's support for creationism in schools. Equally, her contention that Palin's faith is "a private matter" is either naive or disingenuous. Faith is a private matter until you start foisting it on other people, as the zealous seem compelled, all too often, to do. According to Palin, the Iraq war is a "task that is from God". I am intrigued to learn in what way that is a private matter.

Mike Lim


In view of the enormous coverage of the American presidential candidates in the media and, while Prime Minister, Tony Blair's total subservience to the Bush regime, it seems somewhat unfair that we, in what might be thought of as the former UK, don't get to vote.

Richard Betts


If she thinks that Sarah Palin poses a dilemma for feminists, Mary Dejevsky must have a short memory. I do not recall feminists of my generation having any crisis of conscience in not voting for another strong, career-minded working mother. I don't think Margaret Thatcher was swept into office by feminists casting aside their principles simply to put a candidate of their own gender into power.

L Taylor

Barrington, Cambridgeshire

It is unfair to criticise right-wing creationist Sarah Palin for getting her first passport only two years ago. The poor woman was clearly afraid that if she travelled too far across the world, she might fall off the edge.

Chris Webster


If Governor Palin really believes polar bears "will adapt to living on dry land" (report, 6 September), isn't this somewhat at odds with her view of creationism as a plausible scientific theory?

Hilary Haskell


Handwriting outmoded

You report that thousands of children are incapable of answering exam questions in longhand (6 September).

In the course of most modern careers, computers are the primary method of producing work. Schools need to be encouraged to embrace new media, instead of clinging to the archaic idea that exams should be a test of students' handwriting as well as their brains.

Peter Waters

Belton, Norfolk

Chameleon Cameron

David Cameron's cynical desire to play to the gallery reached a new low when, in Islamabad, he stated (Podium, 5 September): "We cannot impose democracy at the barrel of a gun; we cannot drop democracy from 10,000 feet- and we shouldn't try. That was what was wrong with the neo-con approach." These words, from a man who voted without remorse for the "neo-con" invasion of Iraq and who has stuffed his shadow cabinet with drooling "neo-con" anoraks. If this is how Mr Cameron opposes an ideology, God help us if he ever decides to support one.

Dr Chris Scanlan


Time-travelling Tudors

The BBC educate (letters, 5 September)? No longer. In a current show, The Tudors, the Venus de Milo, discovered in 1820, is in the park where Ann and Henry walk. In the throne room is an Orrery modelling the planets going round the sun, a heretical idea, 100 years before Gallileo and 220 years before the first such model was invented. The Pope is shown on the balcony of the new St Peter's, complete with Della Porta's dome, 50 years before they were built and when Rome was in ruins after Charles V's attentions. Some education.

Mike Bell


Kershaw's complaint

That the Isle of Man has very little serious crime would, presumably, be one of the reasons Andy Kershaw chose to settle here ("My year of hell," 4 September). He should not therefore be surprised to find that "the police have nothing else to do" but to enforce court orders taken out against him.

David Buttery

Douglas, Isle of Man

Hospital parking fees

Hospital parking charges are in future to be levied in England but not in Scotland and Wales. How comforting it would be if our Scottish Chancellor were, for a change, to announce that certain dues imposed in Scotland and Wales will not be inflicted upon England.

Professor George Huxley

Church Enstone, Oxfordshire

Following instructions

Reading Chris Nagle's letter (6 September) about the instructions on a box of matches: "Keep dry and away from children", I was reminded of the instructions I found on a bottle of bleach: "Keep away from children. Do not drink". If I could achieve the former, I am sure I would manage the latter.

Sue Beswick-Horner

Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands